A Free Educational Resource Created by Carnegie Mellon University to Empower You to Secure Your Part of Cyberspace

Identity Theft

When someone uses your personal information to commit fraud

Identity theft is when someone uses your personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, social security number, financial institution account number, username or password) to commit fraud. Some law enforcement officials consider it the fastest-growing crime in America: it victimizes 10 million Americans and steals $50 billion from businesses and consumers annually.

Protective Measures


  • Protect your personal information: Protect your Social Security number (SSN), credit card and debit card numbers, PINs (personal identification numbers), passwords, and other personal information. Never provide this information in response to unsolicited requests by phone, fax, letter, or email.

  • Check your bank and credit card statements for purchases that you did not make: Regularly check your bank, credit and debit card statements to make sure that all transactions are legitimate. It is important to know what you did and did not buy so that you are better prepared to answer questions if somebody steals and uses your financial information.

  • Periodically review your credit record and report fraudulent activity: Check your credit report for signs of potential ID theft, including credit cards, loans, or leases you never signed up for and credit record requests from people unknown to you. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) of 2003 allows you one free credit report each year from each of the three major nationwide credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). See the FTC Web site  for more details.

Legal Issues


The ID Theft Act  makes identity theft a federal crime punishable by up to 15 years' imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250,000. It enables the Secret Service, FBI and other law enforcement agencies to combat the crime, and it allows victims to seek restitution in the event of a conviction. It also designates the Federal Trade Commission as the clearinghouse for complaints.


The Identify Theft Assistance Center (ITAC) was formed in 2003 to help identity theft victims recover their financial identities and restore their credit ratings. ITAC works with the FTC and law enforcement agencies, and the information it collects is used to help prevent such crimes in the future. See their Victim Assistance  page for details.



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